Grant Park is aptly nicknamed Chicago’s “front yard.” Located along the shore of Lake Michigan just east of the Loop, the sprawling city park is home to acres of green space and is also home to Museum Campus, the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and the Art Institute. Another reason to visit the park is Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world, with a pretty spectacular light show on summer evenings. There are also several monuments throughout the park’s gardens and flower beds, such as a sitting statue of Abraham Lincoln. In the summer the 300-acre park is truly the place to be, whether you are using the green-space to relax, attending a music festival such as Lollapalooza, or going to a weekly movie in the park. Sports enthusiasts can enjoy the park’s many tennis courts, baseball fields and jogging and bike paths. For you runners out there, Grant Park is also the beginning and end point of the annual Chicago Marathon. Clearly, this public space is never lacking energy.
Grant Park’s existence dates back to 1835, when some smart citizens saw the bright future that Chicago had in store, and lobbied to keep the lakefront space public land. Now, thanks to those lovely individuals, Grant Park can never be threatened by ambitious developers. The park, named Lake Park in 1847, underwent many transitions in order to maintain its environmental beauty; the Illinois Central Railroad built a breakwater to deter lake erosion. In 1901, the South Park Commission took over maintenance of the space, and renamed it after our 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant. But prominent Chicago citizens had disagreements about what exactly the prime real estate should become. Architect Daniel Burnham wanted the space to hold civic buildings and museums, with a more formally designed landscape. He would later go on to collaborate on the “plan of Chicago” with Edward Bennett which layed out future city plans, emphasizing the importance of park space. But, not everyone agreed with the famous Burnham’s vision for the space. Construction was stalled when Aaron Montgomery Ward, creator of the mail-order industry and active Chicagoan, filed lawsuits against Burnham, hoping to keep the land open greenery. Ward eventually won the lawsuit and the open land was saved.
Grant Park has been host to the good and the bad in Chicago. At the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, protesters were brutally attacked by police force. In 2004, the north end of the park was transformed into Millennium Park, revamping even more old rail yard into space for Chicagoans to enjoy. In 2008, thousands gathered when Barack Obama accepted his presidential position.
No matter what exciting event is happening in Chicago, Grant Park is likely the place to be. And we’d be willing to bet it’ll be the site of celebrations and historical events for years to come.